The Time I Gave Away Thousands Of Dollars Of Below-Cost Product By Mistake ... And What I Learned About Testing In The Process

How NOT To Set Fire To A Pile Of Cash

· Digital Marketing

Once upon a time, I set up a discount coupon for an eCommerce site. Unfortunately, I didn't correctly configure the coupon - failing to select the checkbox that prevented the coupon from being applied multiple times to the same order. The coupon was sent out via an email newsletter, and some savvy customers managed to figure out that they could keep using the code over and over again; each time taking 10% off the order. It was only the diligent work of the dispatch team who noticed a number of orders being sent out for substantially below what they should have cost, which resulted in me being made aware of the issue. The end result was several thousand dollars in cost, due to products being sold well below cost.

Every month I had the responsibility for setting up a new promo code for that specific month, using a fairly arcane eCommerce platform to do so. Normally we had a process in place where another staff member checked the coupon, but unfortunately they were away and so the process was missed - and I sent that coupon out into the wild without having adequately tested it.

What did I learn from this unfortunate event? (albeit a great savings opportunity for some enterprising individuals):

Make Sure You Have A Robust Testing Process In Place For Your Digital Marketing Activity ... And Stick To It!

Failure to do so can result in a situation like mine. 

I've also seen other avoidable mistakes in the past - both as a recipient and as someone involved in the process in one way or another - such as:

  • EDMs sent out with placeholder text (once to a database of over 200,000 subscribers)
  • Ad copy loaded up into Google Ads, Facebook ads with obvious spelling mistakes and inconsistencies
  • Ad campaigns created with incorrect targeting settings, e.g. recently I reviewed a new client's existing Google Ads account where their YouTube ads campaign was spending all of its budget on kids videos, as no targeting was ever set
  • The wrong domain set as the click target for a social media post or ad
  • Website copy loaded up that was simply not up to the required standard for the site/brand

Not having a testing process in place could mean snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with your digital marketing. Your potentially great campaign could be a total disaster.

There can be a real cost in terms of wasted ad spend, missed sales (or excessive discounts given in my case) and loss of reputation.

Here's how to minimise the risks of errors and mistakes (like the bad one I made) when executing your digital marketing campaigns and activity:

#1. Develop A Testing Process

It all starts with having a testing process - ideally a checklist or workflow - that you can follow for any digital marketing campaign or activity that you deploy.

Start by writing out a list of the digital activities you undertake on a regular basis (e.g. creating and deploying Facebook ad campaigns, setting up and sending out EDMs and researching and writing blog posts).

For each of these activities, develop a checklist of items that need to be reviewed before you can go-live. For example, with an EDM an example checklist might be:

  • Proof-reading the wording/content (including subject line)
  • Checking the right recipient list or segment is loaded ... getting this wrong is a common mistake in my experience
  • Checking the layout of the EDM, ideally in multiple inbox types and devices
  • Checking that any clickable links work, and that whatever you are linking to is working correctly
  • Having at least one other person review the EDM - if you are a sole operator, then you might want to pay for a contractor to assist you with this
  • Setting up any required tracking e.g. UTM parameters on clickable links

You might be able to think of more checklist items than this. Depending on your resourcing etc, you might also want to have each of these items checked off by more than one individual (at least for "mission critical" campaigns).

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  • #2. Actually Use The Testing Process

Having a testing process or checklist for your EDMs/Google Ads campaigns/coupon code setups or whatever is only as useful as the paper the checklist is written on.

What actually matters is using your approval checklist(s), and doing so consistently.

Make sure that this is part of the workflow that you and your team use on a daily basis, and stick to it diligently.

Use tools that suit your workflow - as required - to make this process more effective. For example, if you use a Smartsheet to manage your marketing activity, can you build the process checklist into your day-to-day Smartsheet activity?

If the checklist/process just sits as a document somewhere on your hard drive or in the cloud, it is as good as useless. 

#3. Have A Backup Process In Place

This is the bit that caught me out all those years ago. We had a process in place for checking the coupon setup and testing it worked properly, but because one of the team was away I didn't bother with any kind of backup process.

Big mistake!

If your EDM checklist process, for example, depends on your manager checking your work and giving final approval, then what happens if your manager is away for the day?

Have a backup or redundancy in place, just like if a pilot can't land at their destination airport they always know they have enough fuel to land somewhere else. 

That could be getting the assistance of another team member, or even using an outsourced service "on demand" as required.

While that coupon mistake I made was very embarrassing for me, and resulted in a genuine cost to the business, I've never made such a mistake again (I'll admit to having made typos and minor mistakes -to err is human after all - but nothing of that nature/magnitude). 

Develop your testing/approval process, use it, and have a backup and you'll minimise the risk of deploying campaigns that don't perform as expected and could actually have a detrimental impact. 

If you need help reviewing your digital marketing processes and finding the weak spots (as well as developing mitigation strategies) then email me on and we can set up a call to discuss.